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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Miliband: Tackling the cost-of-living crisis and ending a century of centralisation

Labour leader Ed Miliband will herald the biggest devolution of power to England's great towns and cities in a hundred years as the next stage of One Nation Labour's plan to tackle the 'cost-of-living crisis'. In a speech in Birmingham, he will set out the interim conclusions of Andrew Adonis's Growth Review recommending the end of a century of centralisation by at least doubling the level of devolved funding - handing control of the equivalent of more than £20 billion to City and County Regions over the course of a parliament.

He will say these measures will be included in Labour's election manifesto as another key component of his One Nation plan to halt the race to the bottom - in wages, skills, prospects and productivity - which has left millions of families in the grip of the cost-of-living crisis. Mr Miliband will announce that the process of devolution has already begun with he and Ed Balls writing to the leaders of every council, university and Local Enterprise Partnership asking them to draw up joint plans to boost growth and private sector jobs in their regions.

Those regions that meet strict tests established by the Adonis Review, will be given new powers over transport and housing infrastructure funding, as well as for the Work Programme and skills, he will say. He will underline his message in today's Independent that the central mission of the next Labour government will be to restore the link between the wealth of our nation and family finances. He will counter Tory claims that the structural weaknesses of the economy have been fixed or that the 'cost-of-living crisis' has been solved as he highlights official figures showing how, on current projections, middle-income salaries will continue to lag behind growth for years to come.

Building on policy announcements, made by Labour, on wages and prices over the last six months to tackle the 'cost-of-living crisis;, the main focus of Mr Miliband's speech is on jobs. And he say that, in an era of tough fiscal constraint when Labour will balance the books in the next Parliament, new middle income quality private sector jobs will be crucial to restoring the link between growth and living standards.

In addition to the devolution policy, Mr Miliband will highlight five other key planks in the economic agenda has already set out: greater competition in the banking sector to improve lending to business; revolutionising skills and vocational education; removing some of the predatory short-term pressures afflicting great British companies; supporting small firms by cutting business rates; and protecting British exports by staying in the European Union. Taken together, Labour say, this will help halt the hollowing-out of the middle class and create the conditions in which hundreds of thousands of high skill, high wage, high-tech, high productivity private sector jobs can flourish.

Tory election chances 'damaged' by Miller scandal

Over a third of 2010 Conservative Party voters have said they would be less likely to vote for the Conservatives at the 2015 general election due to the party's support for and handling of the Maria Miller expenses episode.

In a poll conducted by Survation on behalf of Breitbart London and Conservative Grassroots , 34 percent of people who voted for David Cameron's Conservative Party at the last general election said they would now reconsider their voting preference on the basis of the actions of Cabinet Minister Maria Miller, and David Cameron's handling of the incident.  
Just 14 percent said that the situation would not affect their voting intentions negatively. At the same time, just 15 percent of voters said that David Cameron had shown "effective leadership" in his handling of the issue.

Benjamin Harris-Quinney, Director of Conservative Grassroots said: "The damage from the handling of Maria Miller's expenses scandal is now very close to being permanent with two thirds of those who voted Conservative in 2010 saying they are less likely to do so in the 2014 European and 2015 general elections." 

Continuing Mr Harris-Quinney commented: "What we have seen in this poll is a clear signal that it is Conservatives that are most concerned and upset not only by the Maria Miller episode, but perhaps more so the wider issue of malaise among the political classes in terms of serving and representing the people that elected them. 61 percent of 2010 Tory voters feel that Maria Miller is representative of a political class that needs to leave British politics."

Concluding Benjamin Harris-Quinney said: "From Maria Miller's point of view, not resigning is now severely damaging her reputation, but equally, the reputation of the Conservative Party, undoing much of the positive work on economic reform delivered by George Osborne's most recent budget".

Raheem Kassam, Editor of Breitbart London said: " What we are seeing here is the inevitable backlash, not just from the public at large but tellingly from Conservative voters across the country who are sick to the back teeth with David Cameron's Cabinet and its unceasing arrogance. The fact that it has now been 11 days since this issue came to a head unmasks a deep disdain from within the Conservative Party leadership towards the tax-payer, and in their words "hardworking public"".

Last weekend, former cabinet minister and former Conservative Party Chairman Lord Tebbit argued in his Telegraph blog that: "Having staked his authority and reputation on defending his Culture Secretary against calls for her to be fired, the Prime Minister will be damned if he now fires her and damned if he doesn't."

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Government reduces its stake in Lloyds to below 25%

The government has today sold another part of its shares in Lloyds Banking Group. It has sold 24 per cent of its remaining shares in the bank, at a price of 75.5p per share. This takes the government's holding in the bank to less than a quarter. The sale has secured 'further value' for the taxpayer and, the Treasury say, will be used to pay down the national debt. It is part of the Coalition's long term economic plan to build a stronger and safer banking sector.

The Chancellor received advice from UK Financial Investments yesterday that it would be appropriate to sell part of the government's shareholding in Lloyds. The Chancellor agreed with that advice and authorised the process to begin. The government has now sold 36 per cent of its original stake in Lloyds, which now stands at 24.9 per cent.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said: "I can confirm this morning that we have sold a further £4.2 billion of shares in Lloyds Banking Group at 75.5p a share, taking the taxpayer's stake down to below a quarter of the bank. This represents good value for the taxpayer and the money will again be used to reduce the national debt. This is another step in the government's long term economic plan to deliver a more secure and resilient economy. It is another step in repairing the banks, in reducing our national debt and in getting the taxpayer's money back."

Friday, 14 March 2014

Tributes to Tony Benn

Following the announcement of the death of the former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn. Politicians from across the spectrum have been paying tribute to what many see as a principled, conviction and genuine socialist politician. Here are some of the tributes:

Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said: "The death of Tony Benn represents the loss of an iconic figure of our age. He will be remembered as a champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician. Tony Benn spoke his mind and spoke up for his values. Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, everyone knew where he stood and what he stood for. All of my condolences go to his children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua and his wider family. In their own ways, they are all a tribute to him as a father, a socialist, and a most decent human being."

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: "I am sorry to hear that Tony Benn has died. He was a magnificent writer, speaker, diarist and campaigner, with a strong record of public and political service. There was never a dull moment listening to him, even when you disagreed with everything he said."

Labour's Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, said: "Tony Benn's extraordinary life has come to an end. His legacy will endure. Our challenge to take it forward. Our thoughts with his family."

The Conservative party Co-Chair, Grant Shapps, said: "Very sad news on Tony Benn passing this morning. An extraordinary orator and principled man. Thoughts with his family & friends this morning."

Tony Blair's former Director of Communications, Alastair Campbell, said: "RIP Tony Benn. A fighter all his life, fought death with the same courage he lived life. A large and loving family there with him to the end."

The Green MP, Caroline Lucas, said: "Politics and life seem so much poorer this morning. Tony Benn will be hugely missed for his courage, clarity, conviction and kindness."

Liberal Democrat Peer, Floella Benjamin, Said: Tony Benn a true gentleman. I'll always remember the generosity & kindness he showed me. He was a perfect role model who changed the world

United Kingdom Independence Party Leader, Nigel Farage, said: “I found Tony Benn personally engaging and highly entertaining. We shared a birthday and we used to joke about that. Tony was also one of the few people I have ever known who totally ignored the ban on smoking in public places. He used to tell me that given that he was in his eighties he didn’t think anyone would make a fuss. Britain has lost a giant political figure and my thoughts today are with his family.”

Lindsey German, from the Stop the War Coalition, said: "Tony Benn was a good friend to our movement, to stop the war, to me personally. He will be so missed an inspiration to the next generation."

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Any end in sight to the cost of living crisis

By Eve Pearce

Despite the recent news that unemployment has fallen to just over 2 million, and that the Bank of England may well, as a result, address inflation, many in the UK are continuing to struggle with poverty and the cost of living. While politicians are unsurprisingly keen to assign blame to each other, or take credit for minor achievements, the cost of living crisis is one that needs to be fundamentally addressed. In order to do so, taking an unbiased look at the causes of this problem is something that must be done by all political parties if we hope to have any real, lasting changes made to rectify the failings of the current systems in place. The problem is of course, a complex one - energy prices, housing, food, and transport all contribute to the issue, and while some changes are happening in the energy industry that could see long term benefits for the country as whole in terms of less emissions and cleaner fuel, whether this will affect prices remains to be seen.

The Origins of the Problem

Tracing the roots of the issue can be tricky at first, especially given the often conflicting statements made by both Labour and the Conservatives. Ed Milliband for example, has made the cost of living a sole focus of attack on the current government, often stating that the problems are as a direct result of the average wage being much lower, up to £1600 a year lower in fact , when compared with 2010. However, what Mr Milliband fails to point out, is that wage stagnation began under the previous Labour government.

Conversely, the Chancellor seemed keen to avoid the most recent figures on the crisis which are indeed a cause for concern, instead referring to more favourable figures from 2012, which suggest the problem is in fact minor at best. Some critics of the recent figures say that it’s too early to consider these recent statistics as a warning sign, and that they may in fact merely be a blip. While this is a perfectly viable argument, the reality for many of the UK’s poorer families seems to suggest otherwise.

The Financial Squeeze

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a single adult needs to earn just over £16,000 a year, after tax, in order to reach the minimum accepted living standards. The cost of living has been rising faster than inflation, which is the main reason for the financial strains that have been felt by those earning under or near this threshold. The effects have been further compounded by ever rising energy bills, which have been predicted to rise up to 50% in the next six years.

For the general public, especially those on the lower end of the earnings scale or the unemployed, this has also translated into growing problems for a number of sectors. UK car sales for example, have been on the downturn, and a number of people have even traded in car use for biking or walking. Fuel prices haven’t helped the matter, along with additional costs of insurance and general maintenance. That said, there are a number of discounted finances and services on offer for car owners that can ease the burden somewhat, and some providers have been quick to try and adapt to the current climate to attract savings focused consumers

Transport and car ownership is only one aspect, of course. Food prices have also risen, leading many to rely on food banks, and consumers focus on making as many savings as possible has been felt strongly in the food retail sector. A number of large UK supermarkets saw profits drift away over the Christmas period - again a likely indicator of consumers tightening the leash on spending as a result of the cost of living crisis. The supermarkets themselves blamed such a downturn on the economic situation, and despite slashing prices were unable to secure satisfactory margins during the period.

Will the Crisis Continue?

Despite the varying political stances, there are some noteworthy omissions from standard party lines that are worth pointing out. The wage stagnation under Labour could in fact have been crucial in keeping unemployment figures down, despite the economic downturn, according to the IFS. Additionally, the Chancellor may have been correct to sideline the 2013 figures, as according to the Bank of England we are likely to come out of the cost of living crisis in the next few years, with wages due to rise.

So far, the Bank’s predictions have been fairly on the money, so with any luck, the next few years will give way to much needed respite for those feeling the bite the most. However, care should be taken not to dismiss the issue entirely, as there are still millions in the UK living on or below the poverty line.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Floods cost small businesses £831m

As businesses continue to recover after the recent floods new data released by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) reveals small firms in affected areas lost more than three quarters of a billion pounds. The FSB is publishing new research today showing an average cost of £1,531 per business in flood hit areas amounting to a total of £831 million.

It is now three months to the day since the first flood warnings were issued, with many areas in the South West still suffering from severe flooding. The impact on businesses has been significant. The FSB’s flood research shows a third (32%) of small firms in flood hit areas suffered from reduced demand for goods and services, while transport disruption hindered the movement of goods and supplies (29%) and led to staff absences (16%) in many businesses.

The FSB says it remains concerned that as a result of the floods, small businesses will find it more difficult to obtain insurance. More than a third (37%) of FSB members in flood hit zones expect it to be more difficult to renew their insurance and more than half (59%) expect their insurance to become more expensive as a result of being left out of the Flood Re support scheme.

John Allan, National Policy Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said: “In the past few weeks we have heard countless stories from our members who were left devastated by some of the worst flooding on record. Not only have they had to cope with a lack of demand for their services, many have had to close. That is why Government support has been welcome, and with many still affected, why that support needs to be kept under review.”

Continuing Mr Allan said: "We also know small businesses are worried they will find it increasingly difficult and considerably more expensive to insure their businesses. Certainly the evidence we have from our members points to small businesses’ exclusion from the Flood Re scheme being unhelpful. We want the Government and the insurance industry to look again at the support they have in place for small businesses in flood hit areas and see whether there is more help they can provide to ensure they have access to adequate and affordable insurance."

Monday, 24 February 2014

Harriet Harman statement

Deputy Leader of the Labour party Harriet Harman has issued the following statement:

"In recent days I have been the subject of a politically-motivated smear campaign by the Daily Mail. They have accused me of being an apologist for child sex abuse, of supporting a vile paedophile organisation, of having a relaxed attitude to paedophilia and of watering down child pornography laws. These are horrific allegations and I strongly deny them all of them.

This is not the first time the Daily Mail has made this horrible and untrue allegation. And, this is not the first time the Daily Mail has attacked me. The editor and proprietor of the Daily Mail are entitled to their political views and they are of course entitled to oppose what I stand for but they are not entitled to use their newspaper to smear me with innuendo because they disagree with me politically and hate my values.

I sincerely hope people won't believe these smears - I suspect even the Daily Mail doesn't believe them to be true. But given the seriousness and the aggression with which the Daily Mail are pursuing me, I feel that I need to put the facts in the public domain."